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Women in Agriculture

This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.  To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/

Aysegul Eroglu
Aysegul Eroglu

First of all, I was happy to join the Tilth Conference and learn on a number of different topics.  One workshop of particular interest to me was “Women in Agriculture Panel.” I think that women have a significant part to play in agricultural and rural life. Thus, I was excited to learn about the challenges facing women working in Washington farms.

This panel was conducted by Audra Mulkern who is founder of the Female Farmer Project, which is a multi-platform documentary project. During the panel, she mentioned that they make personal essays, profiles of farmers, photographs, and a podcast. In addition, they have an upcoming documentary film. She added that “We hope this discussion will inspire all of you and all of us to pursue leadership roles, to be engaged at the policy level, and to celebrate women and their role in agriculture.” What I found most interesting was that the three women panelists, all farm leaders in different ways, had found different sources of support and community. Here are some kernels of wisdom I took from the session:

Anne Schwartz: “I hooked into the people who were creating Tilth in 1979 and found my family, and I never looked back… My goal really is to change Agriculture. And actually, we’ve had some fairly profound impacts in the last 40 years. And it’s exciting to see you all here. Women are really a critical part in pushing for change. My personal goal is to really encourage and inspire women to do more than just grow food and find your seat at the table… Tilth has been such an important place, because there have been many women involved in agriculture. I don’t have a lot of access to other women that farm easily. By circumstance, many people who have come to work for me have been women. It is really cool to crank out all the amazing food with a mostly woman team.”

Micha Ide: “I recently just joined the board of directors for a very small farmer’s market. It has been eye-opening… I’ve felt pretty supported in agriculture. I started off on a community plot of land, but within this community space, there were many women. So it was good being a part of a group of people who look like me. I also have my husband. But there have definitely been situations in which I have been excluded from conversations, it may be societal but also, I have to learn to assert myself.”

Beth Robinette: “I run the Lazy R ranch with my dad 16 miles west of town here. I’m 4th generation on that place. I also am the co-founder of LINC Foods which is a worker-farmer owned co-op food hub based in Spokane. With a non-profit called Roots of Resilience, we do a five-day intensive course for women who want to get started in animal agriculture. It’s called New Cowgirl Camp. “I’ve been a part of a group called Women and Ranching, out of California. This group brings women ranchers from all over the US. It’s a great group because it provides so much support… At first I had a lot of anxiety about running the ranch despite having grown up on the ranch. So these women I met through the organization are super inspiring. Ranching is a good old boys’ world for sure. Sometimes, when interacting with other ranchers, they would have full conversations without recognizing I’m there. Some of it was an age thing, especially when I was in my early twenties and everyone was 40 years older than me. But more recently there is a growing breadth of inclusivity and representation.”

In summary, all three panelists said that we have come a huge way. We spent many years trying to find a seat at the table and in policy making, and it is a completely different ballgame now. It’s much more accepted that in this new generation we are changing the picture of who is going to farm. There are so many more women. It’s amazing how far they have come.

With this panel I realized that the women who are in the same business have a specific story. These women all found different sources of support, built their own voice and leadership style, and promote women as farmers.  Listening to them, I wanted to think about the story of all women farmers, who are fulfilling so many different responsibilities in their homes. Women always produce something. Wherever there is success, I believe that there is a female hand whether it is seen or not.

An internal conflict on organic seeds resolved

This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.  To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/

Sajal Sthapit
Sajal Sthapit. Photo: Laxmi Lama

It was my second time attending the Tilth conference. The diversity of talks and panels at the Tilth conference last year help me broaden my understanding of sustainable agriculture and it was no different this time. I am grateful for the CSANR sponsorship that made my participation possible.

I especially enjoyed the Saturday morning session on organic seed production and the organic seed chain. Aaron Varadi of the Organic Farm School presented on his work as a certified organic seed producer and shared practical tips for other farmers interested in organic seed production. Next, Kikki Hubbard (Organic Seed Alliance), Jacob Slosberg (Osborne Quality Seeds) and Shaina Bronstein (Vitalis Organic Seeds) hosted a panel discussion on organic seed chains.

The National Organic Program in 2002 set the requirement for organic growers to use organically produced seeds where available. Going into this session, I was conflicted about this requirement. On the one hand, I recognized the need to create a market for organic seeds and incentives for organic seed production and organic plant breeding. Currently, organic growers have no options but to grow varieties that were tested and selected in conventional production environments. Researchers, such as Kevin Murphy (Sustainable Seed Systems Lab, Washington State University) have argued that part of the yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture can be met by breeding crop varieties specifically for organic systems.

On the other hand, I was worried that an organic seed requirement would reduce the amount of varietal diversity grown on organic farms as growers will be limited to growing organic seeds only. In the panel too, many farmers admitted that they had their favorite varieties for which it was not yet possible to find organic seeds.

Article 205.204 in the National Organic Program does define exceptions to the organic seed requirement. For instance, non-organic seed can be used if an organic equivalent is not available. In practice, a farmer only needs to document checking three organic sources and not finding the variety before using non-organic seeds. Many proponents of organic farming consider these exceptions to be loopholes that need to be removed. I, on the other hand, felt that these exceptions are necessary to provide farmers with the options of growing a diversity of varieties. This session was able to change my mind.

The State of Organic Seeds, 2016 report found that the proportion of organic seed used in an operation were highest on small farms (<10 acres) and the proportion declined drastically as the farms got bigger than 160 acres. According to Julianne Kellogg, a WSDA certifier, small farms also find it logistically easier to grow more organic seeds. As small farms tend to grow more varieties, with each non-organic variety grown they need to keep records of contacting three sources for organic alternatives. At the other end, bigger operations typically had a contractual requirement of specific varieties or simply had seed requirements that were too large to be met with organic seeds alone.

The evidence shows that the more diverse smaller farms are already switching to more organic seeds and are committed to it. In general, they report being happier with organic seeds than conventional. Hence, my imagined conflict between greater diversity on farm versus the requirement of organic seed use was not really an issue. In fact, a stronger organic seed market would be needed to make it possible for larger organic farming operations to switch to organic seeds.

The connective power of agriculture on society

This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.  To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/

Derya Eroglu Karaca
Derya Eroglu Karaca

My name is Derya Eroglu Karaca, and I have been a graduate student in the Crop and Soil Science Department at Washington State University for two years. First of all, I am grateful to WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) for giving me a chance to attend to the 2018 Tilth Conference and for supporting the costs of my Tilth Conference trip. Secondly, it was my first time to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, Washington. It was a great opportunity for me because I am from Turkey, and my grandfather and my father are farmers. They grow some crops like corn and tomato, but they have some problems with the use of pesticide and fertilizer, the use of non-organic seed and sustainable agriculture. The 2018 Tilth Conference was a very informative experience for me to change some incorrect agricultural applications in my family farm and my country.

My expectations before attending to the Tilth Conference were 1) having the opportunity to meet with professionals, farmers, and scientists; and 2) learning new information from their research and farm stories. The 2018 Tilth Conference focused on different topics including sustainable agriculture, social issues in agriculture like ‘Women in Agriculture’, marketing processes and business skills of farms.

I was interested in sustainable agriculture and seed production technologies, so “Organic Seed Production for Diversified Markets and Farm Resiliency” was one of the most important presentations for me. For the first topic, the speaker, Aaron Varadi, mentioned that although organic seed production has many benefits, this process includes different challenges like crop rotation challenges and possible problems such as insects and too hot or cold temperature for good pollination. He explained all of organic seed production processes step by step from good stock seed to storage and shipping. He said “We cannot grow good food without good seed.” He was really right because farmers in my country usually use non-organic seeds which are imported from different countries, and currently, they use much more pesticides than were needed in the past. In addition, he stated the main considerations for seed crops which are very important to produce organic seeds, and requirements of wet-seeded and dry-seeded. I learned that self-pollination is important for Fabaceae, Asteraceae, and Solanaceae while crossing pollination is a very useful method for Brassicas, Chenopods, Cucurbits and Apiaceae.

The Tilth Conference provided many opportunities for me. We shared our studies with each other, increased our knowledge about different agricultural fields, and have made new friends. In addition, after I head back to my country next summer, I will encourage farmers in my country to grow organic crops with good seeds.

Bridging the gap between farm and table for sustainable agriculture

This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.  To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/

Syed Badruddoza and Sherry Hessian
Syed Badruddoza with Sherry Hessian. “Sherry & Dave Hessian are sustainable agriculture enthusiasts from the outskirts of Spokane. Sherry and I talked about different issues in supporting and marketing organic seeds. The pack of squash seeds I’m holding was a gift from her.”

“I’m a doctoral student at WSU in the School of Economic Sciences.”

The audience looked puzzled whenever I introduced myself with this sentence at the Tilth Conference. The connection between the dismal science and Tilth Conference perhaps was a little less than obvious.

“For my dissertation, I’m looking at price premiums for organic dairy products,” I added.

“Oh, I see! That’s what brings you here!” Now there’s a big smile in place of confusion.

Very few economists attended the Tilth Conference. In fact, I was the only one from my department. But I came back with a fantastic experience and a deep insight regarding sustainable agriculture. I have been to many other conferences before, but the homogeneity and harmony of interests among participants were particularly enjoyable. I met farmers, processors, sellers, and researchers at the conference. What brought them under the single umbrella was their dedication towards sustainable agriculture. It’s more of a movement to them than ordinary nine to five work.

organic produce on display
Organic produce on display.

What is it about sustainable agriculture that inspires so much passion?

No research so far has shown an organic product is significantly better for health compared to its conventional counterpart. Some consumers perceive organic-labeled  food to taste better (but not unlabeled organic food). Then why should we care?

“We emphasize locally grown produce,” said Ames Fowler, a doctoral student at WSU who also owns a small farm in Moscow, Idaho. “Produce loses nutrients over time. Encouraging small local farms also checks the tyranny of large farms and keep the income inequality low.” Indeed some farmers put a sticker on the produce that declares time like “picked at 8 AM” to give buyers a clear signal.

“When you smell organic rosemary you can tell, for sure it smells better.” said an herb farmer from Spokane. “The intuition is simple. All the pesticide residues are going to kick in some day in your body, and then you’ll pay your doctors ten times more than you’d pay the farmers.”

Technology and awareness among producers considerably grew after sustainable agriculture had started its journey. New challenges keep showing up. I attended different sessions that primarily focused on the problems of sustainable agriculture (Sustainable Production and Systems, Regulations and Certifications).

To every solution, there is a problem! (and Millennials should learn how to cook)

Produce from sustainable agriculture invariably cost more. In my research, I investigate how price premiums for organic products can be lowered—which would attract more consumers towards organic produce. But farm productivity varies across region and season. A local farm can hardly grow that big to serve consumers from several states.

“Scaling is a major problem” Jim Baird from Cloudview Ephrata Educational Farm admitted. “Feeding the entire population of the U.S. from sustainable agriculture is not possible without government support” added a farmer from Puyallup. “Yet, we keep subsidizing corn! Consequently, there is corn syrup in everything. It looks like nutrition is not important to the country.” He shakes his head in disappointment. “Millennials need to learn how to cook!” said his wife “they rely more on processed food because of their busy lives. Once in the farmer’s market, I saw a couple enjoyed the fragrance of organic herbs, but they didn’t buy because they didn’t know how to use it.”

“Awareness is important,” opined a chef from greater Spokane area. “Consumers need to learn about the goodness of sustainable produce. People don’t like to buy red bell pepper if it’s half-yellow. We are so commercially brainwashed regarding consumption. The only way out is to create demand for sustainable agriculture via mass awareness.”

Restaurants and retail grocery chains cannot afford to buy produce from 10 local farmers instead of one big company. The scale issue can be resolved through building awareness and government support. However, no commission is available at this moment that promotes sustainable agriculture by educating people and lobbying in the administration. “If I’m already paying apples and dairy commission, then it’s one added cost for me to pay to a new commission!” said Mat from Idaho.

Shared Data is a Key Part of Integrated Floodplain Management in the Puyallup Watershed

 

In the Puget Sound Region, it’s clear that climate change impacts will involve changes in precipitation that will impact agriculture, especially agriculture in floodplain areas (Mauger et al. 2015). However, it’s not yet known how precipitation pattern changes will combine with changes in stormwater run-off and sea-level rise… and how these changes might differ between different watersheds. Flood risk reduction folks want this information so that they know how to properly size new culverts. Fish folks want this information to place and design salmon habitat restoration projects.

A drainage ditch very full with brown, near-stagnant water
Nancy’s Ditch, a key agricultural ditch in the Puyallup Watershed’s Clear Creek area, is consistently slow-flowing and full of water. Photo: J. Jobe.

But, it turns out that this information will also dramatically impact what to do about agricultural drainage, a current challenge. Getting surface water off of fields early enough to plant spring crops can be tricky, and often the fall rains saturate fields before farmers can plant winter cover crops. Farmers need to know what to expect from precipitation changes in the future so that they can adapt to those changes. Crop selection, cover crop timing, and maintained agricultural drainage infrastructure will be critical for future agricultural viability, as much or more than it is today. So, it is important that farmers also understand and have the ability to use climate change information.

In the Puyallup Watershed, floodplains host a diverse array of farms and agricultural businesses that benefit from the rich floodplain soils. They also are under pressure of development, suffer frequent flooding, and provide inadequate fish habitat. Recognizing the conflicting pressures, the Floodplains for the Future Partnership  of 22 partner organizations are working to support the recovery of floodplain functions. The key is to achieve that by balancing farm, fish, and flood interests and needs.

The Partnership’s Farm Committee has taken the lead role in understanding, researching, and advocating for agricultural viability in Pierce County so that the agricultural community’s needs are met whenever possible by this multiple-benefit effort. Since 2015, their efforts have focused on the Farming in the Floodplain Project (now affiliated with the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources), working to identify agricultural viability needs and support actions that could improve the ability of farmers to successfully farm in Pierce County.

The first three years of this work led to some not-terribly-surprising conclusions and next steps for Pierce County: agricultural drainage, often the biggest physical barrier to agricultural viability, has been inadequately maintained for decades, and now is worsening flood risk (Environmental Science Associates 2017). In addition, as our Partnership works to improve agricultural drainage (at a landscape scale, as well as through policy), we’ve recognized that there are serious gaps in our understanding of how to address future agricultural drainage needs, because these will change with a changing climate.

We are not alone in this. As we wrestled with the best way to get robust data around future precipitation changes and sea level rise, we realized that our counterparts working on the flood and fish habitat side of things—the other two legs in this integrated management stool—needed very similar data to understand things like what vegetation to use in restoration efforts, and how tall to construct levees. We were all using different reports, baseline data, and models to understand how our shared landscape might be impacted by climate change… so how likely were we to find solutions that work for farms, fish and flood?

In order to meet the need for solid, relevant, and specific climate change data, we decided to collaborate, pool resources, and design a shared approach. We have partnered with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group to collate available data, determine what we should use as shared baselines, identify data gaps, and define a path forward to collaboratively develop new models for the Puyallup Watershed.

A group of people dressed in rain gear stands in a farmer’s field, listening to the farmer.
Farm, Fish, and Flood folks meeting on a farm in the Puyallup Watershed to better understand how this farmer successfully farms with the existing high groundwater levels and agricultural drainage systems.

This approach is unique, but logical: collaboration will lead to a greater understanding of the specific predicted changes for our Watershed, it allows us to pool our resources (time and money) and we will create better-quality models with a higher degree of buy-in from the many partners involved in this work.

Working collaboratively, the Floodplains for the Future Partnership’s shared development of climate change data will allow us to continue to build trust between interests that sometimes are at odds—between agricultural landowners and the County, between fish biologists and farmers. We will have a clearer idea of how precipitation changes may impact the land use decisions that face our Partnership. By the end of 2019, this work will have taken shape: we’ll have a shared path forward to fill in the critical gaps for climate change data needs to inform better decisions for farm, fish, and flood-focused efforts.

 

References:

Mauger, G.S., J.H. Casola, H.A. Morgan, R.L. Strauch, B. Jones, B. Curry, T.M. Busch Isaksen, L. Whitely Binder, M.B. Krosby, and A.K. Snover. 2015. State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound. Section 8: How will Climate Change Impact Agriculture? Report prepared for the Puget Sound Partnership and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle. doi:10.7915/CIG93777D

 

Environmental Science Associates. 2017. Final Drainage Inventory Memorandum. Memo prepared for the Farming in the Floodplain Project and PCC Farmland Trust. Accessed Nov. 28, 2018.

 

Also published on AgClimate.net and the Farming in the Floodplain website.

Ecosystem Monitoring

This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.  To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/

 

Mark Batcheler
Mark Batcheler

As a long time farmer and recent graduate student, going to conferences like the Tilth Conference are opportunities to go see my people.  People who know what it is like to work where they live and work hours that are not governed by a clock but by the work that needs to be done. The conference is also an opportunity for those that live with dirt on their boots to shake hands and share thoughts/ideas and a meal with the researcher, the representative of the company selling its wares, and collectively gather with others who focus their time and energy on the food system that we all rely upon.

Part of my time was spent on the Farm Tour and Symposium which included a visit to LINC foods which is a worker and farmer owned cooperative food hub; Lazy R Ranch which is a fourth-generation family farm that produces grass-fed beef; and Urban Eden Farm, small urban farm that runs a CSA and distributes produce through LINC foods.

This tour was designed to give the participants a sense of how one of our regionalized food systems work.  From the production of meat and vegetables to an examination of sales, marketing and distribution, we were able to talk with a farmer, rancher and the staff of a regionally owned distribution center that provides fair and fulfilling employment. These three entities cooperate along with a host of other farmers and ranchers to provide food directly to schools, hospitals and local businesses.  This model has proven itself overtime to be an economic and ecological investment that benefits all who participate in this regional food system.

An added benefit of this tour came when I learned that we would have the opportunity to talk with the ranchers who were dedicated not only to high-quality grass-fed beef but to the long term ecological sustainability of their ranch.

As a graduate student who is interested in researching how agricultural systems can  design management systems that recognize and sustain the ecological services that support the provisional services that we as humans need (food, fresh water, wood, fiber etc),  I was quite interested to hear that Lazy R Ranch utilizes a data monitoring tool known as Land EKG.  This is a monitoring tool is designed to teach ranchers and public land stewards methods to monitor ecological processes so that they can better understand large scale trends on the lands they work with.  Essentially this tool teaches land managers to collect, analyze and record ecological data points in order to create more sustainable rangeland solutions.

Moving forward, I am interested in how tools like Land EKG that monitor ecological services can help develop better models of ecological assessment and will help us become better land managers, stewards and foster a more sustainable land ethic.

2018 Cover Crop Monoculture vs Mixture Update

close up of cover crop mixture growing
A cover crop mixture of species looks more like nature but is it better than a monoculture? Photo: A. McGuire.

Since my 2016 post, “Cover crop best bet is monoculture, not mix,” I have continued to follow the research on cover crop mixtures looking for evidence contrary to my prior conclusions. However, I found much the same as when I wrote the 2017 update of the post. In this 2018 update, I cover all the research I found published during the past year, give some guidelines for conditions under which mixture research should be done to match those where the most benefits are being claimed, and in response to a suggestion, review the Jena biodiversity experiments in relation to our cover crop question, “is monoculture or mixture better?”

2018 Studies

My criteria for when a mixture should be favored is still transgressive overyielding, where a mixture’s biomass surpasses that of the best monoculture. Although Bybee-Finley and Ryan (2018) suggest that transgressive overyielding is too high a bar for polycultures/intercrops, I believe that to justify the extra expense (mainly seed), time (modifying and setting up planting equipment) and especially the extra management needed to get a diverse stand, mixtures should either out-yield the best monocultures, or have some other similarly large benefit over monoculture to justify their use.

The research on cover crop mixtures seems to have peaked and is now decreasing as I found fewer papers to review in 2018. Sanderson et al. (2018) looked at annual forage mixtures and concluded “Mixtures, however, did not yield more forage than the most productive monoculture…” so no transgressive overyielding.

Couëdel et al. produced three papers on crucifer-legume bi-mixes, which do show benefits of mixtures over monoculture. These, however, fall in the exception that I have mentioned before, that of grass-legume mixtures on low nitrogen soils. In the studies, crucifers took the place of grasses in the mixtures. The mixtures benefit from the nitrogen fixed by the legumes, while the crucifer monocultures did not have their nitrogen needs met.

The Bybee-Finley and Ryan paper mention above provides an interesting discussion of intercropping in general. The authors observe that mixtures of perennials will more often result in transgressive overyielding than will mixtures of annuals. This is because it often takes several years or more for the benefits of diversity to become evident. With the shorter growing seasons of annual crops, and especially of cover crops, the benefits of diversity in terms of biomass production are rarely observed. Even in mixtures of perennials, overyielding is only found in 37-53% of research trials (Fort & Segura, 2017) so it is not a given, even in the long-term. Furthermore, maintaining a diverse stand of perennials can be difficult in the long-term as many managers of pasture have found. However, although diversity-in-space of mixtures may not be much benefit for annuals, diversity in time, something which nature cannot do, is highly beneficial for annuals; we call it crop rotation.

The Jena Biodiversity Experiment

The Jena biodiversity experiment is an impressive endeavor. It was suggested to me as an example of mixtures benefits over cover crops. And it is, but it has some limitations in its application to cover crops. The experiment did not look at mixtures of annuals but did find that mixtures of perennials, in long-term grasslands, produce better than monocultures on average. However, as mentioned before, these benefits often take years to appear, an option not available to a 90-day cover crop.

While looking through the research that has come from the Jena project, I found a paper that explains why there is such a disparity between ecologists and agronomists like myself on the topic of the use of diversity in plants. Schulze et al. (2018) points out that the two groups have different criteria for measuring the success of polycultures vs. monocultures. It gets back to the different ways of measuring overyielding that I covered here. “Two approaches mark the difference between the “ecological” and “agricultural” view of the biodiversity/ growth relation. In ecology the trend is averaged by taking monocultures of all species as baseline to evaluate mixtures. This contrasts the ‘agricultural’ view focusing on the most productive species or species combination as baseline to evaluate mixtures.” Evaluated by the ecological view, the Jena experiments do indeed show the value of diverse species mixtures. However, by the agricultural view, the best yielding monoculture out-yields the mixtures.

Finally, in a review of the Jena experiment results, Buchmann et al. (2018) find that the relationship between diversity in grasslands and productivity is mainly determined by nitrogen, either from legumes in mixtures or from fertilizer.

Research conditions to capture the benefits of cover crop mixtures

cattle grazing in circle fence
Cover crops in regenerative agriculture are often grazed which helps pay for their use. Photo: A. McGuire

I would like to suggest how research should be done to test the claims of regenerative agriculture proponents regarding the benefits of cover crop mixtures. Based on the solid regenerative agriculture principles, I think this would be the minimum:

  • No-till
  • 3+ year crop rotation
  • 6-8 species in the cover crop mixture
  • Long growth period

I suggest the longer growth period because many of the cover crops used in regenerative agriculture are grazed once, or often multiple times. This longer field time gives the legumes in the mixtures time to become established and fix significant nitrogen giving them an advantage over shorter season cover crops that are being squeezed between cash crops and which mainly grow in cool conditions from fall to early spring. The latter conditions do not allow legumes to fix a significant amount of nitrogen.

Much of the research I have reviewed has not been done in this combination of conditions, so I am still open to new research results on this question. However, it has been suggested to me by regenerative agriculture proponents that the cover crop research I reviewed did not find benefits of mixture because it was done on degraded soil. This is curious, because in regenerative ag and elsewhere cover crops are a tool to improve the soil. If they do not function on degraded soils, and if the benefits are only found when they are used on already healthy soils, then why use them?

As I have written before, any cover crop can be beneficial, but given the accumulated weight of evidence going back over 40 years (Cardinale et al. 2011), I conclude that if there are benefits of cover crop mixtures over monocultures, they are not easy to achieve. Add to this the extra expense for seed and planting difficulties, and the case for mixtures becomes difficult to make.

Monoculture vs. Mix Series

 

References

Buchmann, T., Schumacher, J., Ebeling, A., Eisenhauer, N., Fischer, M., Gleixner, G., … Roscher, C. (2018). Connecting experimental biodiversity research to real-world grasslands. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 33, 78–88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ppees.2018.06.002

Bybee-Finley, K. A., & Ryan, M. R. (2018). Advancing Intercropping Research and Practices in Industrialized Agricultural Landscapes. Agriculture, 8(6), 1–24.

Cardinale, B. J., Matulich, K. L., Hooper, D. U., Byrnes, J. E., Duffy, E., Gamfeldt, L., … Gonzalez, A. (2011). The functional role of producer diversity in ecosystems. American Journal of Botany, 98(3), 572–592. https://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.1000364

Couëdel, A., Alletto, L., & Justes, É. (2018). Crucifer-legume cover crop mixtures provide effective sulphate catch crop and sulphur green manure services. Plant and Soil, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-018-3615-8

Couëdel, A., Alletto, L., Kirkegaard, J., & Justes, É. (2018). Crucifer glucosinolate production in legume-crucifer cover crop mixtures. European Journal of Agronomy, 96, 22–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eja.2018.02.007

Couëdel, A., Alletto, L., Tribouillois, H., & Justes, É. (2018). Cover crop crucifer-legume mixtures provide effective nitrate catch crop and nitrogen green manure ecosystem services. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 254, 50–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2017.11.017

Fort, H., & Segura, A. (2017). Competition across diverse taxa: quantitative integration of theory and empirical research using global indices of competition. Oikos, 127(3), 392–402. https://doi.org/10.1111/oik.04756

Sanderson, M., Johnson, H., & Hendrickson, J. (2018). Cover Crop Mixtures Grown for Annual Forage in a Semi-Arid Environment. Agronomy Journal, 110(2), 525–534. https://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2017.04.0228

Schulze, E. D., Bouriaud, O., Weber, U., Roscher, C., Hessenmoeller, D., Kroiher, F., & Schall, P. (2018). Management breaks the natural productivity-biodiversity relationship in forests and grassland: an opinion. Forest Ecosystems, 5(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40663-017-0122-y

2019 Professional Development Program RFP posted

Western SARE Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education logo

The SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) is now accepting mini-grant applications for both attending a professional development event and hosting a professional development event in 2019.

Please see the SARE PDP Program page for more information and for application instructions.  Applications will be screened after January 15, 2019, and accepted until funds are exhausted.

Proposals requested for 2019 Kaiser Conservation Endowment

Proposals are now being accepted to the Kaiser Conservation Endowment to fund small projects for promotion and demonstration of conservation practices targeting soil erosion.  Application deadline is January 23, 2019.

Proposals are sought that fund the training of college and K-12 students and constituents, including curriculum development, field trips, teaching aids, audio/visual or other education-related activities. Funds are open to Washington State University, University of Idaho, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Conservation Districts, and colleges in Washington and Idaho. However, proposals must have a strong linkage to WSU, the University of Idaho, Conservation Districts, and/or NRCS. Funds are limited to the Inland Empire – the area east of the Washington Cascades and north of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Successful 2018 applicants should attach a progress report to any new or continuing proposal.

Proposals are not to exceed $5,000. Up to three grants will be awarded for this current funding cycle. Instructions for proposal format can be found on the Kaiser Conservation Endowment page.

Northwest Rangelands – Where Do our Climate Vulnerabilities Lie?

sagebrush steppe with windmills in the background, cattle in the mid-ground, and water tubs in the foreground
Supplemental water helps encourage more distributed grazing across rangelands near Ellensburg, WA. Photo: CAHNRS Communications

What will climate change look like on Pacific Northwest rangelands, which cover a huge area of our region? It will undoubtedly have complex impacts on the physical environment, environmental stressors, socio-economic factors, and the animals, plants, and other rangeland organisms. Recently, I took a look at the literature to see what the state of the science is relating to rangelands’ vulnerability to climate change. While there are a number of relevant studies that I mention below, I focus in this article on one of the few quantitative analyses, led by Matt Reeves, that updates Reeves’ previous work that was discussed on agclimate.net.

In the Pacific Northwest, net primary productivity, which determines forage availability, is likely to increase by mid-century (with increases also expected in the Northern Plains region and decreases in the Southwest and Southern Plains) (Reeves et al. 2017; green in Figure 1A). Other scientific teams using different methods have suggested similar impacts. This increase in productivity is likely to benefit Northwest ranchers, especially when considered in light of the decreases in productivity in more southern regions.

However, increases in productivity are accompanied by higher variability from year to year in many areas (red in Figure 1B), which will likely exacerbate challenges for cow-calf operations, as unexpectedly destocking in response to reduced forage production can create economic losses, and increasing herd size in response to higher-than-expected forage production generally takes more than a year (Neibergs et al. 2017). However, in a few areas of the Pacific Northwest, variability could decrease (green in Figure 1B).

Two maps of the US Pacific Northwest. Map A shows mostly shades of green with some white in south-central WA and north-central OR. Map B includes mostly shades of red, with some white/green in eastern ID and in south-central WA.
Figure 1. Expected changes in A) net primary productivity index (positive values, shown in green, represent an increase in NPP) and B) expected changes in year to year variability (negative values, shown in red, represent an increase in variability) by 2050-2060. Changes are shown as +2 to -2 index, compared to historical baseline of 2001-2010. Projections shown were developed using a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario known as A2, and future climate projections from the 3rd Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3). Data from Reeves et al. 2017. Visualizations by Rajagopalan et al., unpublished.

Meanwhile, across the western U.S., the same study projected a move from woody dominance toward grassier vegetation types overall but with considerable variation across the region. However, these projections assumed no fire suppression occurs. It remains to be seen whether fire suppression efforts will actually lessen, perhaps as climate change leads to larger and more intense fire events. Other research teams have suggested that climate does not have a large impact on whether or not woody species dominate, and that grazing history, fire regime, and soil type will continue to be determining factors (Polley et al. 2013). Rangeland vegetation is also likely to shift in response to climate change’s interactions with the potential for threats from invasive grasses like cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) and red brome (Bromus rubens) (Polley et al. 2013). This in turn could reduce forage quality and also contribute to larger and more frequent fires.

Last, Reeves’ results indicated a substantial increase in the number of heat-stress days for cattle across all regions beginning as early as 2020-2030 (red in Figure 2), including for areas of the Pacific Northwest that do not currently experience much heat stress. It is important to recognize that the heat stress data represented here are relative to the baseline period of 2001 – 2010, during which there were only a few cattle heat-stress days per year. In this region, the number of heat stress days by mid-century are projected to exceed 60 days annually in the A2 scenario. This may create a substantial need for adaptive strategies.

Alternative text: A map of the US Pacific Northwest, showing solid dark red.
Figure 2. Expected changes in heat stress index by 2050-2060. Changes are shown as +2 to -2 index, compared to historical baseline of 2001-2010. Negative index values, in red, reflect an increase in heat stress. Projections shown were developed using a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario known as A2, and future climate projections from the 3rd Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3). Data from Reeves et al. 2017. Visualizations by Rajagopalan et al., unpublished.

It is almost certain that ongoing climate change will substantially impact both cattle operations and the complex ecosystems that make up Pacific Northwest rangelands. Impacts in other regions are also likely to be very important for the Pacific Northwest, as these impacts will affect livestock economics across the U.S. The Southern Plains—with the current highest beef cow inventory—and the Southwest regions are projected to be negatively impacted for most indicators relevant to rangeland livestock production, rather than some indicators pointing to negative impacts and some to positive impacts, as in the Northwest. Relative advantages may thus shift to the Northern Plains and Northwest regions, despite some important challenges here.

 

References:

Neibergs, J.S., T.D. Hudson, C.E. Kruger, and K. Hamel-Rieken. 2017. Estimating climate change effects on grazing management and beef cattle production in the Pacific Northwest. Climatic Change DOI 10.1007/210584-017-2014-0.

Polley, H.W., D.D. Briske, J.A. Morgan, K. Wolter, D.W. Bailey, and J.R. Brown. 2013. Climate change and North American Rangelands: Trends, projections, and implications. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 66(5): 493-511.

Reeves, Matt C.; Bagne, Karen E.; Tanaka, John. 2017. Potential climate change impacts on four biophysical indicators of cattle production from western US rangelands. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70(5): 529–539. www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1016/j.rama.2017.02.005

 

This article is also posted on https://www.agclimate.net/